A diagnosis of ovarian cancer and the resulting treatment can cause emotional and physical difficulties which can impact on your sexuality, sex life and relationships. Here, Lynn Buckley, Clinical Nurse Specialist and Psychosexual Therapist, takes us through her ten top tips for coping with these changes.
1. If it isn't a problem for you, it isn't a problem.
If you want to be sexual with a partner or on your own, that's OK. If you don't want to be sexual at all, that's OK. If you are single, or in a partnered relationship, or if you want ot go out and have sexual relationships with other people, that's all OK. No matter how you're feeling about sex, relationships and intimacy, if it's not a problem for you, it's not a problem.
2. How you are feeling is normal for you.
There's no textbook to tell us how we should feel. You're an individual and have your own background, beliefs, feelings, emotions and history that make you the person that you are. Cancer might sometimes change parts of us - and some of these changes might impact how we feel about ourselves and how we feel sexually - but how you are feeling is normal for you. There's no right or wrong.
3. You don't have to be in a partnered relationship to be sexual.
Sex is not just for people in a relationship. You can be sexual on your own or go out and have sexual relationships with other people - that's absolutely fine. This is you and your body: do what makes you happy.
4. Make time for being sexual - it doesn't have to be when you go to bed.
It's worth finding the time that you're not too tired to be sexual. You don't have to have sex when you go to bed; it might be that you're most comfortable and relaxed at 10 o'clock in the morning. For women with a partner, perhaps your partner can have a half day on a Thursday - so Thursday morning or afternoon is the day that you want to be sexual. Find a time that works for you.
5. Kiss your partner like you'd kiss only a partner.
Often it's about remembering that relationship that you have with your partner - and only your partner. If you're going to kiss, you want to kiss them like you'd only kiss a partner and not like you'd kiss Great Auntie Mabel on the cheek!
6. Sex isn't always just about penetration.
Being close and intimate sometimes is more important than penetration. There are lots of other things that you can do to be sexual or to be intimate with someone: holding hands, kissing, cuddling or touching each other. Sex isn't always about intercourse, it's about closeness.
7. If you have a partner, talk to them.
If you're in a relationship, it's helpful to sit down and talk to your partner about how you're both feeling. Find out what's special and important for the two of you and work out how you want to be together and where you can move forward. You might have different sexual needs so it could be about finding a middle ground that suits both of you. Or it might be that you're both happy with changes to your sex life at this time. Being open and honest with each other will help.
8. There are lots of different reasons that sex might be difficult or painful or different from before.
There are lots of emotional or physical reasons that can impact on how we feel about sex. It could be that your head and body just aren't connected at the moment because there are lots of other things happening. It could be that there are problems with arousal. It could be that there are problems with orgasm. If sex is going to be painful then it's going to affect your desire - why would we want to put ourselves in that situation? Some surveys suggest that 80 per cent of people have some problems with sex so you're by no means alone - and there is help available.
9. Slide and glide - there are lots of different types of lubrication!
I often suggest using a combination of lubricants: oil-based on the outside and then water-based on whatever you're going to be putting into your vagina. It's like a slide and glide situation! Just keep in mind that different types of lubrication are suitable for different things - so you can't use a silicone lubricant with silicone sex toys because it'll damage the material, and you can't use an oil-based lubricant with condoms. Choose something that works for you and incorporate it into foreplay so you don't have to stop having fun!
10. Sexual recovery is important - and there is help available!
If you were having difficulties after breaking your leg, you'd get help until it was back to full strength - we should be thinking in the same way about sex. Sexual rehabilitation is really important and there are lots of people who can help - from your Nurse Specialist or your GP through to your consultant. Some areas have sex therapy on the NHS or you might want to seek out a private sex therapist and there are organisations who can help you find them. But speak to your Nurse Specialist or your GP to get the help and support you need.
Find out more
- Look at our other sources of support for relationships
- Get in touch with our Support Line if you have any questions about ovarian cancer
- Read more of our information about body image, intimacy, sex and relationships